October 21st, 2013
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago
Thank you all for being here. Once again we are surrounded by the love and support of this community and we are grateful.
I’m Austin’s mother and I had the joy of knowing and loving him for the nearly 21 years of his life.
I wish I could convey the entirety of his unique beauty to you, yet I know that is impossible.
I can’t capture Austin’s essence in these few words, but I can share something about one of his distinguishing qualities.
Austin was emphatically, unapologetically and unabashedly himself. He embraced his passions and quirks, and in doing so, enriched the lives of those who knew him.
He loved the urban energy of Chicago and also actively sought the beauty of nature. On our first hike in New Mexico when Austin was five, the adults were starting to tire. I tried to gently set the stage for our imminent return by explaining to him that there were process hikers---people who just liked to be in nature-- and there were destination hikers. I thought I was being clever and planned on labeling us as process hikers so we could go home. But before I could say more he proudly exclaimed that he was a destination hiker. We made it to the top of the mountain propelled by his short legs and outsized enthusiasm. He remained a “destination hiker” in life, eager to stretch his boundaries and reach each summit whether by walking from Hyde Park to Evanston or gleefully seeking unfamiliar foods with his friends in this vast terrain of Chicago.
His love of numbers could be applied with equal intensity to weather data, a county-by-county analysis of pre-election polls or baseball. He sought knowledge and insight by finding patterns in data, but mostly it was just fun for him in a way that wasn’t always evident to others. When he was a kid I overheard his cousin exclaim in exasperation “Austin, you’re the only person I know who answers my questions with numbers!” Yet, despite his respect for statistical predictions, he preferred to cheer for the underdog in a baseball game, because he welcomed the possibility of surprise.
He was a young adult who had little patience for contemporary music, and to the chagrin of some of his friends and family, never even pretended to enjoy anything playing on the radio. Instead he immersed himself in classical works because he was moved by the structures and emotions of the music. He would go to concerts alone or with friends, although music was best when shared. Last Christmas Austin gave his father 36 hours of his favorite music with four pages of annotation so Gregg would know why each piece was meaningful to Austin. And I’ve been told that he tried very hard to convince a Streetwise vendor outside the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to come inside and enjoy a free concert where Yoyo Ma would be performing. He was equally willing to share his passion with a close family member or a stranger others might have overlooked.
Austin was a science scholar who loved Nascar which frankly befuddled me until I asked him what he liked about the races. He explained how he held each driver’s past performance on different tracks in his mind and compared them with their strategies for the current race. A couple of years later around a campfire in the mountains of New Mexico he described in loving detail what he had learned about the Krebs cycle, an iconic biochemical pathway that generates energy for living cells. Under the stars we could see his wonder as Austin was visualizing and flowing along with the electrons traveling in their circle. He was following those electrons just as he had followed Mark Martin’s car. His descriptions of these two seemingly unrelated loves provided a beautiful window into his mind, where ultimately everything was connected.
Austin was happy to be who he was and happy to share his love for life even when –and perhaps especially when-- it flowed from his unusual blend of interests and passions.
He was a loving family member, friend, scientist, outdoorsman, lapsed cellist, weather hound, goofball, budding chef, music lover, dreamer, scrabble player, explorer, and scholar.
He had a huge and compelling smile, was insatiably curious, enthusiastic, thoughtful, intellectually intense, honest, a great listener, proud of his family and friends, unmaterialistic, compassionate, quietly funny, factually precise, affectionate and kind—deeply kind.
Austin was a gift.
After we learned the sad news of Austin’s loss, we asked everyone to commit a bit more fully to what matters most in their lives—to live a little bit larger in order to take up some of the space he leaves behind.
We now make an additional request.
We ask everyone to find the courage to be more emphatically, unapologetically and unabashedly themselves.
Because what we learn from Austin’s life is that sharing one’s authentic self is the greatest gift one can offer.